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the 5 essentials

The 5 essential elements listed are to first be aware of and then later to learn, explore and utilize the ideas and techniques when creating great photographs. These won't be the only things you'll be thinking about when planning or taking photos, but IMO they are core in understanding toward becoming a photographer.

#1 subject matter

What do you want to capture or create in a photograph?

What visual elements will be bound within the frame?

What story does it tell?

What emotions does it evoke?

What message does it convey?

A few solid questions to ask yourself when considering what inspires you and what subject matter you want to photograph.

A photograph's subject matter could be a representation of reality through a landscape, portrait, object, or a combination thereof. The photographer could also create a whimsical scene of fantasy through props, lighting, and often with the help of digital enhancements. Complete abstract textures, colors, lines, shapes, and tones could also make up the entire subject. They all have value in different ways. Additionally, each viewer of an image may have a different viewpoint on what is being represented or what messages are conveyed or stories are "told".

In an ever changing world, there are infinite possibilities on what living creatures, places, objects, and experiences we can capture. One joy of tapping into creativity through photography as an artist is there’s never any reason to be bored with all the possibility of creation around us.

Massive collage of people taking photos. People of all shapes and sizes with camera taking photos along their journeys.

People taking photos is one of my favorite subjects! Theses have been captured in photography classes, photowalks, and travel adventures over the past 15+ years! I have many MANY more to share someday and will continue capturing moments like these for my lifetime.

#2 light

Even though listed as #2, arguably the #1 "ingredient" to a photograph and the #1 ingredient to life is LIGHT! We don't see without it and life as we know it won't survive long absent of light either. Even the great mind, Albert Einstein is quoted "For the rest of my life, I want to reflect on what light is."

One of the first lessons I offer to any beginning photography student. Begin to study light.

Ask yourself questions like:

What is my light source? Is it natural? Of course the sun is our primary natural light source, but there are also fire, stars, aurora borealis, and even bioluminescent creatures that emit natural light. Or is the light artificial like a camera flash, studio strobe, street light, headlamp, flashlight, LEDs or LCD screen? Sometimes you have control of the light source and other times you do not. Either way start recognizing what your light sources are and their characteristics.

What direction is the source coming from in relation to my subject? Above? Below? Behind? Facing? Directly sideways? ¾ angle from subject’s left and just slightly above eye level? Haha, you get the idea! Lighting from different directions can VASTLY change the look, style, and even possibly the shape of your subject.

What color is the light? Do I see more "warm" (red, orange, yellow) tones casted onto my subject or more "cool" (bluish) tones? Maybe a combination of the two? Different times of day produce different color of light. Ever heard of the golden hour? Or the blue hour? Both common terms in a photographers lingo. How about gels? Those are pieces of plastic film or silicone that can change the color of your camera flashes for creative purpose or color correction.

What is the quality of light? Often described as soft or hard, the "quality" of light can be determined by looking at your shadows. Does the light create a shadow with a defined edge between light or dark? That's considered "hard" Or does the light create a shadow with a "soft" or gradually defined edge?

Now for you nerdy photogs (I'm in that camp), let’s break down the word photography. First part PHOTO is derived from the Greek word Phos meaning light. Scientists uses the word photon to describe a particle of light or light energy. Then you have the second part, GRAPHY, meaning drawing, writing, representing or the-study-of. Sooooo, PHOTO-GRAPHY is drawing/writing/representing light or the study of light. Therefore being a photographer is one who draws with and one who studies light.

I could go on for days about light considering the great importance of the powerful energy, but let’s move on to getting high and low with #3...

#3 Point-of-view

Where are you and/or is your camera lens pointing in relation to your subject?

Are you standing? Or sitting, laying, crouching, climbing, jumping, flying, diving? Haha, ok maybe that's a little overboard.

Your point-of-view (POV) is just that, the camera’s current point of position in relation to and the lens's view of your subject. Don’t underestimate the significance, because at times micro-movements of your POV can change the look of your subject. Those minute changes in POV can also unify the entire design of your image. Or not. So pay close attention to how changing your point of view can dramatically change the design of your image.

Try learning and experimenting by photographing different objects around your house and yard from different angles and altitudes. Lay, sit crouch, stand, elevate (on a stool, chair, ladder, etc) from 360º around your subject. Take 50 shots of the same subject. You may only like 1 or 2. That's the point. Realize POV is essential to consider and not all POVs are going to give you an appealing angle to your subject. This exercise is highly effective in improving you compositional skills and possibly reveal a particular style you prefer.

Coming up at #4 to me is at times the poetic side of photography...

Often times very low angles or oppositely high-up angles are interesting to the eye because we rarely view the world from those perspectives. I tell people all the time, "work on your low squats!" The ability to get down low and back up again is a huge advantage when experimenting with your cameras point of view. Photo captured of me in the Lemhi Valley, Idaho by the great hunting guide, Nick Main.

#4 Timing

The decisive moment when you fully squeeze the shutter release is the magical moment of exposure to immortalize that moment in time. At times, the poetic side of photography, where the Universe aligns in time and space to put you in the right place at the right time with enough awareness to TAKE ACTION. SNAP! Did you get the shot?!? Patience is not be overlooked as an essential skill and prerequisite to improving your timing. Some photographers wait hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to get that perfect shot. Try going to a downtown area, market, park, or event to find and interesting scene and then wait for the magic to unfold in front of you. That's a great test of patience and top-notch practice to improve timing! Don't wait until the big game, major life event, or epic wildlife encounter to practice your timing. It's an an essential skill be learned and practiced.

Drake mallard duck flys with wings cupped. It's vibrant green head with yellow beak shows just in the warm sun.

Drake mallard flying in Arkansas doing it's best to dodge hunters. Good news for him, I'm only shooting my camera!

#5 unity

Unity is a slightly more nuanced topic than the previous elements but I'll try to keep this to the point. Unity is about taking all the non-subject visual elements and placing them in harmony with your subject. I'm talking your background, foreground, and even possibly the middle ground. And then basically any visual element that is not your primary subject(s). For example, an easily overlooked element to a photograph, especially for beginners, is the background. Looking directly and at times getting lost in your subject is easy to do especially when photographing another person or other living creature. That’s the moment you lose awareness and do not realize you have a telephone pole growing from the top your model's head. Or candle sticks antlers for your lovely bride! Haha! Maybe even the lovely third arm growing out from your buddy’s back. These may be all fun and games to create some humor, but they're generally a sign of an awareness lacking photographer. Pay close attention to what is going on in the background, foreground and all around the frame of the image. Your photograph is comprised of the sum total of all visual elements within the frame. So look at your subject and then become aware of how the other visual elements within the frame to interact with the subject in hopes you align them in your design to create a sense of unity. That might of sounded more complicate than it should. Essentially "make the pieces fit", so everything looks cohesive and unified.

You made it all the way through! Hopefully you now have a clear understanding on how to make your photos even better than before. If you like what you read consider, following along with my newsletter

Fun at the Arkansas State Fair 2022! More story then I can explain here, but notice the alignment of objects, lines, and colors.

All images in this blog are created by Kent Creative, LLC's owner, Alex Kent unless otherwise credited. These images copyright protected under U.S. law. For licensing or print information reach out anytime.